The morning of the student protest

The lights in the Jeremy Bentham room, University College London, go up at 08.00am, a tidying spree starts collecting last nights junk, not least the orange cuttings used by activists to flash mob a Topshop in Oxford Street yesterday. The snow falls down outside, on the day of the biggest student protest for many years; outside is bitterly cold and activists are being briefed on, among other things, the history and legalities of kettling.

Part of the briefing focuses on Section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002, where a police constable reasonably believes you are committing anti-social behaviour, harassment, alarm or distress, at which point an individual can be asked to hand over his or her name and address. Psychologically, the legal expert stresses, this and other police tactics may instil fear within someone wishing to take part in further protest action.

To look at this psychologically is very important; a tactic based upon instilling fear, which kettling may be perceived as, is very close to deterring people’s right to free expression and protest. The people in the room know this, resilience and determination to overcome these tactics are based upon how urgent the issue is.

Amusingly the legal expert reminds us of the need for a good test case for objecting to hand over names and addresses when slapped with a section 50; the unwilling case studies could be in the room.

The objection to rising tuition fees has been reiterated again in the Guardian. Their report says:

The “triple whammy” of higher fees, real interest rates for loans and a longer period before the debt is written off is likely to represent a bad deal for taxpayers, argues million+, a university lobby group. The changes will leave between 60% and 65% of graduates worse off, with middle-income earners hit the hardest, it says.

All rise the squeezed middle.

The charge that these fee changes are progressive fail to miss the mark again, and the argument that increased university interest legitimates sky high fee increases, thereby disincentivising students from poorer backgrounds, fails to hold sway with many young people today – many of whom will brave the adverse conditions and show the government what they really think (apart from David Cameron, who today travels to sunny Zurich to lobby for England’s World Cup bid).

Creators of the Facebook Group Students in Favour of Tuition Fee Reform quote changes under reforms such as increased repayment threshold from £15,000 to £21,000, though the feeling in this room is that education is a right not a privilege – and indeed should not be the preserve of the privileged. University standards must be reserved for a different, though very important, debate. If the argument is made that there are an unsustainable amount of people wanting to continue their education in university (which I haven’t heard yet) then the way to address that is not bandying arbitrary rates, making it impossible for sways of students to follow their chosen path – yet according to Nick Clegg, in his letter to Aaron Porter, this is fair.

In spite of the cold, I look forward to seeing a response to this claim in London today.


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